- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jan
Stephen Fielding is what he appears to be: crude, rude, rough-edged, damaged, and in need of a good cleaning up in every way. His past is a laundry list of misbehavior, and he admits that many of his most wicked achievements have gone undiscovered. Anyone with a nose for scandal could have dug up plenty on this guy.
But documentarian Steve James is too conscientious, too caring. Moreover, he walks past any opportunity to exploit his subject for moviemaking thrills. This is not "reality TV" as we've come to know it. James finds art in the human experience. And, in this viewer's opinion, he has crafted one of the great works of documentary art out of the life of a serious loser. It culminates with one of the great gospel songs of the last decade, and it earns the privilege.
In a skim-the-surface summary,
Ten years before this project began, Steve James came into the life of young Stephen Fielding through the Big Brother program. That small step of compassion and goodwill formed a bond between them that would come to haunt James as he moved on in the mid-'80s and lost contact with Fielding. The film picks up with his return to see what a decade has done in the life of this young lost soul. He takes us to Pomona, Illinois, where he apologetically reenters the young man's life.
The crisis at the heart of the picture takes place between James's first return to Stevie's life in 1995 and his second return in 1997. During that gap, Stevie is charged with molesting an 8-year-old girl.
What follows is a journey through the battle-scarred landscape of Stevie's life on a path that leads to a courtroom and a judgment. We meet the mother who abused him and abandoned him. We meet his sister Brenda, a survivor trying to cultivate a healthier family of her own. Stevie's "friends," a group of Aryan thugs, supply him with a weapon and some troubling advice. The mother of Stevie's victim rages at the camera about what Stevie did to her daughter.
But we also meet those who have shown Stevie a measure of God's grace. A Christian couple who served as foster parents to Stevie early in his life are re-introduced to him, and we can see potential for Stevie's redemption. A local church plays a powerful and transforming role in bringing some healing to this broken family. And Tonya, Stevie's girlfriend, acts as a sort of guardian angel, giving a powerfully moving portrayal of unconditional love.
The subject of the film is, at first glance,
My full review is at Looking Closer.
Movieguide's critic says, "With an amazing portrayal of Christian redemption,
J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth) calls it "extraordinarily compelling. I can't recall a movie that has this much compassion for its characters. Though I haven't cried this hard at a movie in a long time, the film isn't exactly a downer. Rather, it's a portrayal of a broken life and a reminder of the grace we all need. Absolutely a must-see."
from Film Forum, 01/02/04
For this moviegoer,
J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth) agrees, calling it "the best film of the year. Director Steve James is best known for directing the landmark documentary
Josh Hurst (The Rebel Base) turned in similar sentiments, saying
Film Forum reader Tim Willson wrote in raving about
Even though very few people have seen